When The Cab Driver is Elijah the Prophet: The Accidental Jewish Entrepreneur (Part 2)

This story is the second in a series called the “The Accidental Jewish Entrepeneur“, profiling Jews in unexpected places whose innovations and ideas change their communities for good. The second story comes to us from a traveler in Los Angeles, California:

I was visited by three prophets this Jewish New Year. They were not the people pouring off the sheet of the Torah scroll – no. Nor were they the righteous and G-d-fearing ancestors I encountered in the pages of my siddur.

Rather, they were the unlikely prophets – cab drivers – who ushered me to and from the airport. And though I pined for self-serving redemption this season, I quickly got more than I bargained for.

For, as I listened to each driver, I saw that the world’s creation and destruction rests in the hands that one human being offers the next. The locus of this season is with others. It is not, nor has it ever been, all about us.

The drivers’ stories bear this out.

First, there was Hannah, sleep-deprived and strapped for cash, who offered free childcare to a single mother in her building, a woman her whole community had all but written off and maligned. She knew that, by being there as needed, she could ease this woman’s way and raise her community to everything it ought to be.

Then, there was Abraham who traded his corner office for an Elijah-themed YouTube series (spoiler alert: He has a brother named Kevin and a Jewish mother-in-law who venture with him around the streets of Los Angeles), gleefully peeling off his power suit after thirteen years of a legal practice that weighed like bricks upon his soul. He saw the state of the world and proceeded to dedicate his life to making others laugh and hearing their stories in his cab.

And finally, Isaac, witness to his daughter’s personal annihilation, who made the unspeakably gut-wrenching decision to stop giving to her at all. And mysteriously, what he gave her was the “gift of her own sobriety.” A year later, she had made a personal journey from g’nut to shevach (degradation to redemption).

The Jewish New Year brings out all the grappling of our seeking and striving souls. We are given license by our tradition to define our personal purpose, destruction, and road to redemption. But, though we may be tempted and – let’s be honest – mandated, to go full-blown self-referential when we experience time, this year, entrepreneurs can do more.

We can enter this time of reflection with a view to relinquishing the focus on ourselves. We can look around us to friends, to neighbors, and even total strangers, picturing our lives with others in it and being even more mindful of these people’s essential needs. Furthermore, we can take a greater leap, still: we can become so attuned to the lifespans and story webs of everyone else, that we stop utilizing the holiday to only make sense of our own worldview and experience.

Rather, we can use these times to encounter everyone else.

This New Year, consider:

1. How can you work with others in a way that goes above and beyond what you need from them?

2. How can you redistribute work and leadership to highlight other people’s leadership, capacity, and creativity?

3. How can you create a shared vision alongside others that widens the impact of your venture not only on employees, but on your community and even, more broadly, humanity?

Our Jewish lives, let alone our entrepreneurial ones, are not measured by the solo journey of a hopelessly longing self, but by the broader encounter with the unexpected one who arrives every so often and reminds us that being human should mean something and someone more than merely us.

Rarely are entrepreneurs, let alone Jews, awed and changed by what we do for ourselves but, rather, what we choose to give away.

Devon Spier
Devon Spier is a rabbinical student and spiritual entrepreneur. Over the last decade, she has made her home in the small suburban shtetl of Kitchener-Waterloo, where she supports the leadership of Jewish young professionals, children, new mums and donors so that they may lead in innovative ways that raise up the institutions to which they belong.